Birth Professionals, Nutrition

Helping women change their diet

If you have done any work with pregnant women, you have probably seen that how a person eats is a VERY personal matter.  Families who seek advice and information on nearly every other topic can seem to drift off into space if you start talking nutrition. So, how do you help a woman get optimum nutrition? That will depend on the woman.  But here are some questions to think about as you formulate a plan.

1. Is the woman ready to learn? Is she interested in what you have to say and trust the information you give her?  Is she open to making dietary changes and learning about ways to improve her nutrition? If not, you are likely wasting your time.

2. Do you know what problems she has with her diet? You can make assumptions, but unless you know what challenges she faces you cannot help her overcome those challenges.  Does she have access to food, meaning she can get to a place to buy food and money to purchase that food?  Does she have a way to store and prepare food, meaning she can actually refrigerate foods that require it and has the tools needed to cook?  Does she know how to cook food, meaning she understands how to use recipes and feels comfortable preparing her own meals? Does have time to eat, meaning she is able to purchase or prepare meals when she needs them rather than skipping meals? Is her biggest challenge not knowing how to plan a menu following recommended nutrition guideline?

3. Do you know what she normally eats? Recommended diet changes are more likely to be accepted if they follow her normal eating plan.  If you are working with a vegetarian who needs more protein, help her identify vegetable sources she likes.  If you are working with a woman who is lactose intolerant who needs more calcium, help her identify lactose free dairy alternatives and high calcium plant foods. How does she normally prepare her foods and what types of foods does she like?

4. Are you telling her what to do, or helping her learn? Giving her a list of foods to eat may be interesting, but probably doesn’t help the woman learn to solve her own nutrition problems.  Instead, have her do a 24 hour diet recall and work through her normal eating with her as she discovers where her diet may benefit from change.

5. What can she teach you? If you are truly partnering with a woman to help her improve her health, you should be willing and able to learn from her as well.  As you discuss nutrition, ask her questions and show that you are interested in how she as handled her own nutrition challenges.  She may be able to share a great recipe, introduce you to a great grocery or farmer’s market or show a food idea other families can benefit from.

Now that you have matched her needs to your teaching, here are a few other pointers you might find useful.

Reinforce what she does correctly, Celebrate what she is already doing right and build from there.

Set realistic goals, Think in small steps that she can achieve in a week. This lets her build gradually and be successful to encourage her to continue making changes.

Commitment to change, Make sure that she is on board with the plan.  This is most easily done if she had a major part in preparing the plan.

Jennifer Vanderlaan (Author)